24 May Fifth Sunday in Easter-May 19, 2019
May 26, 2019
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it: ‘tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
Every Fourth Sunday of Easter we hear from a section of the tenth chapter of John’s gospel which centres upon the image of Jesus as our Shepherd. In this chapter Jesus is presented as the gate/the door of salvation (10:10). The one who enters through that door will find salvation. (10:9-10). There is a tender relationship between Jesus the Shepherd, and his sheep: he calls each by their name, he leads them; the sheep follow because they know his voice, he is the one and only shepherd who has only one flock (10:16) and that one flock is protected by the Father’s love (10:29). And St. Peter tells us in his first letter: “He is the Chief Shepherd.” (1 Peter 5:4)
This Gospel is most often called the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. However, good does not capture the nuances of the original word in the Greek. The original word could be translated good, or noble, or beautiful, or perfect, or precious… even wonderful. So what we have heard is the Gospel of the Good Shepherd, the Noble Shepherd, the Beautiful Shepherd, the Perfect Shepherd, the Precious Shepherd, the Wonderful Shepherd …. in a word the Shepherd.
Three themes are developed in the four short verses we heard today:
The sheep obey not because of any external force, but because they experience that they belong to the shepherd and are known by him; (v.27). Secondly: The noble or beautiful shepherd is perfectly secure in the loyalty of the sheep. Beautiful or Perfect or Precious Shepherds don’t have to wonder, “Am I loved?” or “Are the sheep loyal to me?” they can therefore set about the work of leadership in freedom. Secure in their role, they can be creative, try new things, pose new challenges. (v28)
Thirdly we see that the security of Wonderful shepherds is rooted in their union with God. (vv. 29 & 30) The Shepherd says: “The Father And I are one.” (v.30). A little later in John’s gospel Jesus will say “Whoever sees me sees the Father.” (John 14:9)
Shepherding is about caring period full stop. Caring especially for those who are weak, lost and in need. It is about presence, love and support. Shepherds are needed as much today as they were in the time of Jesus, to love people and guide them to greater life. When we hear this gospel we often think shepherds refers to the pope, our bishops and priests …. In his last appearance before the Ascension, the risen Christ made Peter the shepherd of his whole flock…. (John 21:15-17) And despite his denials of Christ Peter is entrusted with the leadership of the Church. Feed my sheep (John 21:17) Jesus said to him. …. Our Lord doesn’t mind entrusting his Church to a weak man….. Peter, that weak man repents and demonstrates his love with his deeds….. with his life.
Each one of us is called to be shepherds in this way, especially parents, teachers, anyone in positions of leadership in the Church. Children know they need their parents to feed them, care for them, love them, look after them;, protect them, guide them and help them to grow up. …. to shepherd them. We are all looking for people who really care for us, understand us, respect us. Jesus knows how much we all need good, loving and wise shepherds so that we may grow to a fuller human and spiritual maturity. Not only does Jesus reveal himself as the Good and wonderful Shepherd, he calls each one of us, as we grow to maturity, to be a good shepherd, a servant-leader to others.
What does it mean to become a shepherd, a servant-leader like Jesus?
Many of you will know the name Jean Vanier………..As I’m sure you are aware this great Canadian Catholic spiritual giant, the founder of l’Arche, died this past week. He had been raised in great privilege….. but also great holiness. Both his mother and father’s causes are open for canonization. He at one time , seriously considered becoming a priest, like his brother, Father Benedict Vanier, a Trappist monk, This Harvard educated philosopher, left a great teaching position at the University of Toronto, to live in France with those most disenfranchised by our society, those most on the peripheries of society, the intellectually disabled.
In witnessing their suffering Vanier discovered a profound affinity with disabled people and saw them as a “source of life and truth” “ a source of life and truth if we are able to welcome them and put ourselves at their service.” He embodied the servant-leadership of the Shepherd, of Christ.
Jean Vanier reflected deeply on this gospel of the Good, the Wonderful, the Precious, the Perfect, the Noble, the Beautiful Shepherd. He wrote an entire commentary on the Gospel of John. I’d like to share some of his reflections on the gospel we have just heard. He said: “To lead we must first learn to be good followers. Jesus, Light of the World , calls his disciples to become light for the world. Jesus, the good Shepherd, calls us to become good shepherds, to mature spiritually, …. Only when we are mature spiritually can we help others in need, and seek out those who are lost, those who are crushed or oppressed, who have been pushed to the margins of society.
……It means, Jean Vanier said, taking time with that person, listening and above all creating a mutual relationship of communion, revealing to that person that he or she is loved, has value and is precious. One can only guide someone if there is no desire to possess, control or manipulate the other, if mutual trust, respect and love have been born between the two.” (p. 187 Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus). In light of such a comment we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do I relate to members of my family, members of my parish, my friends, my colleagues, those I encounter on the street, with such mutual trust, respect and love?’
Jean Vanier goes on: “being a good shepherd does not mean being perfect, for no one is perfect. Instead it is being humble and open, recognizing one’s faults and compulsions and asking for forgiveness when one has not acted justly.” (p. 188). In light of this gospel I, myself …. each of us have to ask ourselves, do I set my pride aside, ….. am I humble and open enough to see my faults and ask for forgiveness or say I am sorry?
“To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness in order to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible so as to reveal to them their fundamental beauty and value and help them to grow and become fully alive.” (p. 189) For those I encounter every single day…… I must ask…. Do I reveal to them their fundamental beauty, their fundamental value so that they truly can mature and become fully alive? I have to ask that of myself….. each of us has to ask that of ourselves especially regarding those I encounter every single day.
“Shepherding has its source and goal in communion. It involves serving each other, washing each other’s feet, giving our lives.” (p. 190)
Jesus came to give life ….. to give his life, the life of love and light that he was living with the Father. He came to give his life on the cross, to take away all the blocks that prevent us from being in communion with the Father and in communion with our fellow human beings. Jesus is the Gift of God and calls us to let go of certain things in order to give ourselves.” (p. 191) in order to become true servant leaders.
Jean Vanier let go of so much that the world holds as important. …privilege, education, position, wealth….. He embodied the self-sacrificial love of the Lord, the Chief Shepherd. I think we often think that living the message of Christ is not possible in today’s world. Jean Vanier proves that is not so. In his final message to his community, just a few days before he died, Jean Vanier said: “I feel profoundly at peace and in trust. I don’t know what my future will be made of, but God is good and whatever happens, it will be for the best. I’m happy and I say thank you for everything. From the bottom of my heart, my love for each one of you.” …… “God is good and whatever happens will be for the best.” So simple…….. profoundly at Peace and Trusting in God, as he did throughout his life, he trusts him to the very end …. Such trust is the source of such peace. Such trust and peace are the fruit of true faith. Such trust and peace bear the fruit of self-sacrificial leadership, servant leadership, that Jean Vanier found among the intellectually disabled.
“God is good and whatever happens will be for the best.”